out of 4
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O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Review by Dan Brown
4 stars out of 4
Joel Cohen's film "O Brother Where Art Thou" is is one of the funniest
and uniquely insightful looks at Southern culture that has been produced
in years. Just as we critics decry the death of moviemaking and real
acting, this film rescues these arts with Hitchcockian levels of detail
and character complexity. Besides my critical skills I have a graduate
level education in Preservation Architecture and Vernacular Decorative
Arts and this film is so lovingly faithful to its physical depiction of
the Rural Deep South during the Depression era and the "feel" of its
physical environment. I kept thinking of the detail reminescient in
Hitchcock's "North by Northwest", where the scenes unfold in this exquisite
physical environment and I rewatched "O Brother" to intelluctally drink
in the detail and flavor of each scene. Joel Cohen's attention to
costuming and decorative detail evoked Stanley Kubrick's efforts with
his masterpiece "Barry Lyndon". As you watch pay attention
to Pappy O'Daniel and his entourage's outfits and the detail in the three
main character's coveralls. In one scene they pan down the main street
of a small town during a political rally and then carry the scene to a
"Five and Dime". Ravish them with you eyes, they honestly depict the
place and time and are a rare treat.
Having been raised in small rural towns in the South, I rarely find
Southern characters played with any depth or balance especially in Comedy
films. My wife and I howled throughout the film as the characters developed.
What's it all about? Well, these three good natured boys get stuck together
on a chain gang and the self asumed "smart" one, played by George Clooney,
convinces his "slower" cohorts to assist in a group escape and share in
the 1.2 Million he has hidden in his cabin, located in a swamp, which
is about to be flooded by the regional TVA-like electrical authority as
part of a dam project to bring, not just electricty, but modernity to
the South. It becomes a journey of epic porportions both thematically
and comedically. It's about the humor of a complex culture evolved from
the primative isolation that resulted from the aftermath of the Civil
War and the juxtapositions and irony that result as it confronts 20th
century modernity. Yet as it skillfully mocks it respectively displays
the "Tout Ensemble" that was last vestiges of the "Old South" and what
was good, and really funny about it, both black and white. The KKK scene
is a remake of the "death of the witch" scene in the "Wizard of Oz",
just set in the Old South, if you can imagine that. And, it has all the
quirkiness you would hope to find in a typical Joel Coen film.
You might be able to tell, I loved it. I find it hard to believe you
wouldn't too. Get your money's worth though, watch it twice.
Copyright © 2001 Dan Brown
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